Timothy Bradford
Ophelia in The Abyss

It’s not the drink that knocks me out,
it’s the swallow, the anesthetized gulp
of wave after wave—the neon orange fluid
like something out of a dentist’s office
but tasteless save the metallic tinge of oxygen.
Usually, only the dead know how many
swallows it takes to get to the center, fill the lungs,
drown, ah, not sleep but a flailing before the body
convulses upon itself like a sea worm on a dock in July.
But I know now too and I can tell you—no,
no more “seems”—put your hand to my throat
and count the rhythmic contractions of those
delicate rings: one, two, three, four—
you count, I’ve done this before, this reverse
of birthing, this ingestion so one can live
at great depths, not give at every step.

                FBS, or Fluid Breathing System, was developed by the US Navy in an attempt to put live divers at 
                unprecedented depths. An oxygenated fluorocarbon emulsion that can be “breathed,” it not only 
                serves as a substitute for traditional SCUBA equipment but also puts internal pressure on the            
                lungs, which keeps them from collapsing.

See, we, Hamlet and I, had many babies and hid them
in the castle. When the king’s men went to retrieve my father’s
body, one even crawled out from beneath the stairwell.
He’d been suckling at the wound—attention
to feedings was never my strength—and scrambled over
to the curtains to wipe his mouth, then disappeared.
Their names? Why, Rosemary, Pansy, Fennel and Columbine,
Rue, Daisy, Flopsy, Mopsy and Indigo. Equally boys’
and girls’ names all. But once Hamlet became more bent
on revenge than bottle feeding or nappy changing, I, too,
gave them up to run wild in the castle, surviving
on the odd dropped tart or drumstick, cute begging tricks
or lichen when desperate. Most will make it given my sturdy
servant-to-the-king stock and their father’s wits. And I,
rejected and rejecting, must go to the abyss
and defuse the nuclear warheads “accidentally” sent
to destroy peaceful, amorphous aliens.

                Yesterday, unnamed sources leaked that a US Navy nuclear submarine had sunk into the 
                Challenger Deep of the Marianas Trench, where sights of luminous bodies were being investigated as 
                a possible alien conspiracy to steal our valuable technology. The Navy is denying the report and 
                related rumors that they would solve the issue with a tactical nuclear strike, which some fear might 
                set off earthquakes and tsunamis.

You thought I’d really drown? With a dress
like that, I could have hidden enough oxygen to swim
underwater to the Baltic Sea, but all I had to make
was the Zodiac around the bend where Navy Seals,
strong, decisive men, waited with towels, hot coffee
and a Life Suit, orange unfortunately not my best color.
And damn if they didn’t turn away when I changed,
but no one stared or blushed either. A strange new
space, that liminal not object but not quite subject.
They whisked me to a helicopter, which flew me here,
and now, high-tech helmet on and bitter,
oxygenated drink swallowed, I’m the center
of attention, unknown agent, expendable, traceless,
going to the abyss—(my reasons differ
from theirs)—secret mission to myself.

                The frequency and use of X, or unknown, agents is difficult to discuss by its very design, but 
                historically known examples that involved such operatives include the invasions of North Africa and 
                Normandy in WW II and the overthrow of numerous communist regimes in Central and South 
                America in more recent times, showing their vast historical and political puissance.

The dive suit is filled with heated water like the tropics
in a castle, my head is screwed on tight, my lungs full
of elixir, and I step into the lighted circle of water
inside the Navy submersible on the edge of the trench
and sink, more weighted than buoyant, more
toothed whale than woman, the hair above my sex becoming
seaweed as I descend. There is the sensation
of falling, yes, and the pressure does increase—my temples
ache, my arms and legs feel as if a million rasping hagfish
feed there. I pass out at one point and wake to the still
slow-motion fall. H, I never loved you either, is the bell
that rings in my head, answered by the antiphony, Father,
go suck the king’s cock.
Suddenly, I’m more me than ever
and never more alone or distant from the light. I’m
mollusk and under my tongue, the pearl for which
I’ve traded the world.

                Still denying the rumors of a nuclear submarine’s encounter with aliens in the Pacific, the Navy 
                maintained that its invasion of the Volcano Islands was protective in nature and designed to 
                strengthen, not undermine, U.S.-Japan relations.

Sure, I defused the warheads (save the one I put
in my pack), greeted the aliens—not nearly as interesting
as me, who is seemingly solid but amorphous
in reality as opposed to their on-the-sleeve
fluidity—and pulled the chord to inflate the vest
that hugged my chest and brought me back.
I even held onto a buff sailor as I coughed the fluid
out of my bruised lungs and shuddered through
to the respiration of air. Then I noticed the sailor
had breasts and commanded a nearby man
to fetch me a blanket, and I thought the descent
had changed something. But there were queens
in my time, women who held enormous influence
on the court, and here power was the ability
to command a man who would later scan
the implanted breasts and shaved pubes of glossy
female forms while in the head? Ah, to Elsinore,
I’m as good as dead, and the confines
of this fucking sub hurt my head.

I, Ophelia of the Abyss, pearl of wisdom
in my mouth and nuclear warhead in my pack,
will ditch this vessel at first port, commandeer
a low-drawing sloop and be three times the pirate
Blackbeard or John Avry was. My flag?
Jolly Roger on a black field with yantra
of Kali behind. If you see it, tremble—I’m strong,
fashionable and mean, know mercy is best extended
first to oneself, and if not, one’s as good as dead.
Once I have a sizeable crew, I’ll return to call
my children to my ship, raze the cold castle,
and sail to Fiji.

And when I lay my children down
to sleep, I’ll tell them my story.

The pearl and warhead will illuminate their dreams.